11/02/2013 14:28 GMT | Updated 13/04/2013 06:12 BST

Why Parliaments Need a Greater Say Over Economic Reform


Globalisation offers many illustrations of the butterfly effect, the theory that in a linked up system even a small change can have unexpected large effects elsewhere. The usual example given is that of a tornado caused by a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world, but it can be observed more and more often in our increasingly interconnected world. An earthquake in Japan can spark off a rethink about the use of nuclear energy in Europe while the struggle for freedom in Arab countries can set petrol prices rising in the US.

This interconnectedness is especially true of Europe where the European Union has led to increasingly more interwoven economies. Countries trade with other member states and invest across borders, while Europeans live, study and work abroad. This means that what happens in one country will affect the others. The crisis over the last few years showed the impact a few financially troubled countries can have on the rest of the EU.

That is partly the reason the EU launched the European Semester, an annual cycle to help coordinate the economic policies of the member states to make sure they are all heading in the same direction, while taking into account national differences. The tool for this is the annual growth survey in which the European Commission sets out the priorities for the year. This year's priorities are reducing national debt without harming growth; restoring normal lending to the economy; promoting growth and competitiveness; tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis; and modernising public administration.

The priorities form the basis for recommendations for each country, which have a real impact on people's lives. Recommendations to reform a sector will have consequences for employees, while changes to pension systems or mortgages will affect how people live and when and how they will be able to retire.

Because of these very real consequences, the European Parliament is determined to make the process as open and accountable as possible. It wants a bigger role for parliaments - they have been directly elected and consequently are best placed to look after the interests of citizens. The European Parliament meets with members of national parliaments every January to discuss their concerns and look at the broader picture. It also debates the European Semester with the Commission and the Council and gives feedback on the survey.

During the February plenary the European Parliament adopted three resolutions on the survey drafted by the economic affairs, employment and internal market committees, calling for more efforts to cut employment and ensure that structural reforms foster growth. In addition European countries should be allowed more flexibility in how they decide to tackle the crisis, it said. Many MEPs also questioned the Commission's emphasis on austerity.

Overcoming the crisis is important but not at the cost of what matters most to people, such as having a job and quality of life. It is the responsibility of their elected representatives to find a cure that doesn't kill the patient.

Thank you to Shmuwol for making the photo available under the Creative Commons licence